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Meet Jen Morrison of Amani Arts Productions in Longmont

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jen Morrison.

Jen, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Wow, where to begin. I was born and raised in Austin, Texas, the “live music capital of the world.” Two things I have always loved since childhood: photography and music. No matter where I go or what I am doing, those two things have been with me. They’re just part of me, I suppose. While my husband was in graduate school in Denver in the early 2000s, I did a lot of freelance photography on the side (mostly portraits, sports, and weddings). At the time, though, I still thought I needed to pursue a more traditional/predictable (i.e., not self-employed or creative) career, and so I continued along the path to marine biology. After my husband graduated, we moved to Florida so I could pursue this career, and that’s what I did for almost 10 years. Photography was put on the back burner. I got to dive in the submersible Alvin to almost 2 miles under the ocean surface. I got paid to dive in the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Truly a dream job, for many. But for me, though the diving and exploration aspect of the job was exhilarating, it was not nourishing my soul or fulfilling a sense of life purpose that I was longing for.

So, in 2016, after years of (almost daily) encouragement from my husband and a tugging that was growing within me to do something more creative, I finally gave my notice at my “dream” marine biology job with the federal government. I was leaving the known and stepping out into God only knows what. Gulp. I knew I needed to be doing something that fed my soul as well as my mind. Something about the idea of working with video had been intriguing me for a long time. It’s like still photography in some ways, but with the ability to tell more of a story than just a single moment in time. So I jumped in. I took on some volunteer projects for our church and other local non-profits, worked as an assistant and shooter with the production company that had filmed music videos for my acoustic duo, and was hired to go to Haiti and Uganda to film for another non-profit. Opportunities started lining up, one after another, and I found myself working on projects with organizations that I supported and loved, telling meaningful stories that needed to be told. I was pleasantly surprised when the very first video I was actually hired to produce, for a local women’s recovery center, was awarded “best video” in a competition held by the Sarasota Community Foundation. Looking back on it now, it still amazes me the way things played out. Sometimes when you step out in faith, leaving the safety and comfort of the known, opening your life and your hands to what is possible, doors open. I have yet to really market myself (and that’s something I’m pretty terrible at). But then, I think the best marketing one can do is just to do a good job.

In the midst of all of this change, my husband and I were also embarking on (what turned out to be) a 2 ½-year endeavor of building our own tiny house on wheels. Paralleling my professional journey, we left behind societal norms and material comforts, trading them for a life that, while scrunched into less than 200 ft2, afforded us the freedom to explore and spend time doing the things that we love, with the people we care about. I know that, at the end of our lives, we will not look back and wish that we had accumulated more stuff.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It’s been a windy road for sure. I’ve gone from cardiac researcher and freelance photographer to coral reef researcher and performing singer/songwriter, to tiny house builder and dweller, to video producer and mom. If you had asked me 10 or 15 years ago which direction I thought my life would go, I’m sure it would be nothing like the way it has actually gone. A friend once told me that I was not a person who pursued a career, per se, but rather a life. This simple yet profound observation changed the way I viewed my life. It allowed me to see the twists and turns not as sidetracks but as part of the journey. It has also freed me to follow the things that I am drawn to and make me feel the most “me.” Well that, and a husband who has a secure job and encourages me every single day to do what I love. Following one’s passion and heart is a privilege. I do not take this for granted.

I have certainly faced challenges as a self-employed filmmaker. Building a business can be pretty intimidating and overwhelming at times; it’s easy to doubt yourself and question whether you’re on the right path. On top of that, just a year and a half after starting my own business, my husband and I left Florida, where I had established a solid network of people and organizations, and moved across the country to Colorado, which meant I would essentially be starting over. This put a pretty big hole in my sail. Oh, and on top of that, I was growing a tiny human who would soon turn my entire world upside down. Rather than spend my first couple of months in Colorado (and my last couple of months child-free) trying to re-establish my business, I decided to wait. I took the first year of my daughter’s life off to be with her. And by the end of that time, I knew I was ready to begin anew. So here I am, putting myself out there again, this time with a business name and a renewed sense of purpose and vision. I would not trade the winding road that got me here for a straighter one. Every step has been part of the journey, part of my story.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Amani Arts Productions – what should we know?
Amani Arts is about people. It’s about telling the stories that need to be told, that promote awareness, understanding, openness, and reconciliation. Everyone has a story to tell if we are willing to listen. While I have worked on all types of projects, the ones that I am most passionate about are the ones that bring to light beauty where it might not be evident otherwise; the ones that give a voice to those whose voice is overlooked or spoken over; and the ones that challenge stereotypes and change the way people look at someone or something. I gauge my success as a filmmaker and as a business not by how many clients I have or how much money I make, but by how many people’s hearts are stirred or perspectives shifted by my work.

What am I most proud of as a business? I think I’m most proud that I get to tell people’s stories. When someone asks me to make a video for them, they are entrusting me with their story. It is up to me to portray it in a way that engages viewers while staying true to the story. Being a steward of someone’s story is an honor that I do not take lightly. When working with businesses or organizations, I try to truly capture the heart of the organization so that people can see not only what they do, but why they do it. Recently a client told me that watching their video for the first time brought tears to their eyes because they had spent so many years, so much energy, building the business from the ground up, but had never really been able to step back and see what it had become, see the culmination of all of their hard work. Tears are probably the greatest compliment I can receive.

I don’t know whether it sets me apart from other filmmakers, but I consider myself an artist whose medium happens to be video. When I sit down to begin editing a project, I begin with a blank canvas. And (sometimes an overwhelming amount of) footage that could be put together in any number of ways, to tell countless different stories. Layer upon layer, brushstroke after brushstroke, the story begins to take shape, and after a certain point in the editing process, the story becomes clear and I am just removing anything that hinders it. No matter how challenging a project might have been up to that point, this “aha” moment reminds me that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.

I love that each project is so different; each challenges me to learn and to grow as a filmmaker. It keeps me on my toes and keeps me from getting too comfortable. People have asked me which part of video production I enjoy the most. But really, I love every part of the process, from planning and filming to delivering a finished product, because it is all part of the storytelling journey. I think being immersed in the whole process allows me a fuller understanding of the story I am trying to tell and a clearer vision for how to tell it.

I decided to name my business Amani Arts. “Amani” means “peace” in Swahili. The road to peace is a long and winding one, but I do think that changing people’s hearts is the best (and sometimes only) way to change their minds. So I will continue trying to change hearts, one video at a time.

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